WIN Spotlight: Elsie Iwase

Welcome to the first 2019 release of “WIN Spotlight”, our ongoing series that celebrates inspirational women in our community. Each interview features a member of WIN who is championing innovation at her organization. We dig into the diverse perspectives, influencers, missions, drivers, and dreams of these leaders, and of course share practical tips.

We’re honored to feature the wonderful Elsie Iwase, Strategy Lead at co:collective and WIN Ambassador. Elsie has helped run countless WIN events in New York, and recently led our Board of Advisors workshop in December. We met up for coffee in Union Square, and walked around the farmer’s market on a rainy Friday morning.

PS — read our favorite moments of 2018 WIN Spotlight here.


Who are you and what do you do?

Strategist by title, change maker by nature and all around lover of life.

What are the life moments that most influenced who/where you are today?

There are so many… The most defining moments of my life all shared something in common. Each of them showed me that life is bigger than I imagined. The scope of my world view expanded, forcing me to recognize that life is more mysterious than we think and the best approach is one of curiosity, willingness and wonder.


If you had to choose one, who is the woman that most inspires you? Why?

My Japanese grandmother, who left rural Japan in 1929, at age 17 and took a ship halfway around the world to Brazil, without knowing anyone there, the language or what to expect. Her courage and willingness to take the risk for a better, bigger life made a deep impression on me. I like to think I inherited some of that same spirit.

What is the best advice someone has given you?

Most of the ideas of what we can and cannot do are invented. And when we don't worry about  what other people think, we can do whatever we want.

What is your creative ritual?

Writing in my journal (almost) every day to let ideas, feelings, poems and drawings flow through me.


As a leader in this field, what is your advice for any woman in innovation?

We all have moments when we doubt ourselves, our abilities, our ideas. Acknowledge your fear in those moments, don't let it paralyze you and keep exploring, inventing, iterating and putting yourself out there.

Do you have any rituals or routines?

I start my day with a 30-minute meditation, followed by writing down one thing that brought me joy the day before. I finish my days dancing to a few happy songs in my living room with my husband.

What do you never leave the house without and why?

I bike everywhere and every day the weather allows me. It makes me feel connected to the city and to New Yorkers in a whole new way and it brings me so much joy.

What is your favorite book and why?

Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This book is a deep reflection on wild woman archetype and provoked me to recognize how culture and society so often drive us to live as tamed animals, when our true nature is to be free and more attuned with our instincts.

What is your favorite app and why?

It's not the most entertaining app, but I used to be constantly sleep deprived until I got a Fitbit to track my sleep. Having an app that showed me how little I slept helped me change my habit patterns around self-care and I started to get a proper amount of sleep.

What recent book/movie/TV show/podcast/article made you think the most? Why?

The Invisibilia podcast episode "How to Become Batman" which profiles Daniel Kish, a blind man with exceptional powers to navigate the world – powers which he developed simply because his parents never saw him as disabled and placed no limitations on what was possible to him. It shows how people's expectations define our potential.

Name a fundamental human truth you recently realized.

That all the suffering we go through has less to do with our circumstances and more to do with our reactions to the circumstances. Once we recognize this, most of our suffering can be consciously eliminated. Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is not.

What product, service, or industry do you think is most ripe for innovation? Why?

Healthcare all up, from insurance to providers to pharma. In the U.S., we have a healthcare system that no longer prioritizes keeping people healthy. If we start putting prevention and wellbeing ahead of profits, it will open a huge white space for how we address healthcare needs.


What innovation do you wish you had invented? Why?

The greatest innovations are always the ones that take us to a place we never imagined possible. I was recently reflecting on what an awesome innovation the book was. Suddenly one person's ideas could be disseminated widely – what once could only be shared in a small group around a fire, became accessible to all who read its pages, and, more than that, it was information that could travel through time and space.

What makes a great innovation?

Great innovation defies what "should be" and "what has been" and takes three steps beyond the possible.

What is your favorite quotation?

"The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." —Anaïs Nin


Photos & interview done by Katie Burwick

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